Gymnastics is a popular Olympic event, but because Salt Lake City hosts the 2002 Winter Olympics, Utah's Red Rocks will spend February competing out of town.
Tonight's meet — with 2-0 and second-ranked Utah going for its 167th straight home regular-season victory when it hosts 2-1, seventh-ranked Minnesota in the Huntsman Center at 7 — is the Utes' last at home until March.
They have the nation's second-best total this season, 197.15, scored last Friday as they dispensed seventh-ranked Arizona in the Huntsman Center. That sum is shy only of Georgia's 197.90 this season. The rankings are based on raw scores until next week, when they'll be determined by averages.
Minnesota's best was 195.80 in beating Stanford Jan. 12. The Gophers' loss was 195.125-195.025 to perennial national power Michigan last Saturday.
They are coached by former Ute assistants Jim and Meg Stephenson, who are still close friends of Utah's Greg and Megan Marsden. "This is one of the strongest teams they've had," Greg Marsden observed.
Minnesota's Mary Anne Kelley has a 39.375 best. Mary Skokut has 39.05.
Utah is loaded with all-around strength, though Marsden won't yet use Theresa Kulikowski in four events. The 1999 NCAA all-around champ will eventually ease back into all events after spending 2001 doing two events because she tore an ACL in 2000.
Sophomore Melissa Vituj has scored 39.565, fourth-best in the country this season. Sophomore Veronique Leclerc has 39.525 (eighth-best nationally), Shannon Bowles 39.45 (10th) and Deidra Graham 39.325 (18th). Seniors Bowles and Graham have career highs of 39.60 and 39.725, respectively.
Utah will probably add upgrades on vault and bars tonight. Marsden may also mix and match his athletes, figuring it's a strong enough team that he can experiment.
Utah travels to Louisiana State, Washington, Utah State, Michigan and Brigham Young before hosting Oregon State on March 9.